Arrives in Canada, British Columbia

Moves to Toronto

Works on farm in Rosebank Ontario

full timeline

South Asian Immigrants
Year Number
1904 45
1905 387
1906 2,124
1907 2,623
1908 6
1909 10
1910 5
1911 3
1912 5
1913 88
1914 0

Early South Asian immigration to Canada was dominated by Sikhs. Up to 1950, Sikhs constituted more than 85% of all South Asian immigration to Canada. Unfortunately these Sikh pioneers were not welcomed with open arms by the Canadian government as European immigrants were. While Canadian politicians, missionaries, unions and the press did not want Asian labour, British Columbia industrialists were short of labour and thus Sikhs were able to get an early foothold at the turn of the century in British Columbia.

"These Hindus are all old soldiers. They know little outside of their regular drill… I would have White labourers of course if I can get them… But I would rather give employment to these old soldiers who have helped to fight for the British Empire than to entire aliens." (The Daily Province, October 1906)


Sikh Millworkers Barnet B.C. c. 1905

In the year that Buckam Singh came to Canada, 1907, over 98% of the South Asian immigrants were Sikhs. In September 1907 thousands of members of the Asiatic Exclusion League, a Canadian group dedicated to removing all non-Asiains from Canada rioted through the streets of Vancouver, beating and looting immigrants. Reacting to the anti-immigrant paranoia the Canadian parliament acted to effectively shut the door on Sikh immigration. They passed a law in January of 1908 requiring ‘All immigrants seeking entry must come to Canada by continuous journey and through tickets from the country of their birth or nationality or citizenship.’ The government knew full well that there were no direct shipping services between India and Canada as there were between Canada and Japan and China. Another law was passed in June of 1908 required every South Asian to have $200 in savings to land, while European immigrants only needed $25. This was a phenomenal amount considering that average wages were only a few cents a day. Both of these laws were not applicable to any person born in India of European parents, only to native Indians. Sikh immigration from 2,623 in 1907 dropped to an average of only 20 per year for the next 40 years.

At the time Sikhs already in Canada could not bring their families. By denying Sikhs their wives and children it was hoped that within a few years most of the Sikhs in Canada would return to their homeland. Between 1904 and 1920, only nine women were allowed to immigrate to Canada. Buckam Singh's hopes of one day bringing his wife Pritam Kaur to Canada were dashed.

Immigration laws combined with the unions made sure that the few Sikh immigrants already in the country were only allowed to work on low skill manual labour jobs on farms, the railways, saw mills or mines. Irrespective of their education or background, machinists, doctors or engineers, it did not make any difference they had no chance of securing a job in their field of study or expertise. The young Buckam Singh worked in B.C.'s mining industry at this time.


Sikh laborers Vancouver c. 1900~1910


"The Sikh is a willing worker; there is not a lazy bone in his body. And in this land of freedom, where white man is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the brown-faced Sikh has been taught to expect no more than mere license to live. They have been here for some time and have saved a good deal of money, and many of them have bought property and have what we call in our free Canadian speech a good stake in the country. Many would like to bring their wives and families from India and settle down to live permanently in Canada. Why they should not be encouraged to do this is hard to understand. They are intelligent men, physically well made. They have few religious or caste prejudices (or perhaps that is not a good word). Time will rub these out of them. They do not worship idols like the East Indians, who practice the Hindu religion. The Sikh religion is practically Christianity, if Christian teachings were followed closely. They are against immoderate liquor. They do not use opium or any of the drowsy syrups of the Orient. They have no more criminal tendencies than other men." (British Columbia Magazine)


The Toronto Oddfellows trumpet band has been greatly in evidence at the Union Station since Saturday. This morning the trumpeters augmented their numbers under unusual circumstances. Two Sikhs, Amar Singh and Gopal Singh, both of the Punjab, were waiting for their train. They had come from the Pacific Coast and were bound for Harvard University. The trumpeters saw the turbaned students in grey. "You're odd fellows, all right," one cried. "Here's our badge," and the dusky young men pinned on the regalia, smiling the while. "I have heard of your order," remarked Omar Singh. This rather staggered the musicians - all but one who cheerfully asserted, "Sure, everybody knows us," The strangers spoke good English. "We are from the University of Calcutta. One of us will take a course in geology at Harvard, and the other an educational course." Both were straight. Their military bearing was natural. "The Sikhs form the major part of the native army," they observed with some pride. "Many of our relatives are in the Indian Army. The Sikh has proved his courage, and so has the Goorkha." The buglers cheered. "Bully boys; your good enough to be Oddfellows." (The Toronto Daily Star, Sept. 17, 1906)


Even though Sikhs were succeeding in the few professions open to them, they were still barred from most others. The government laws did not allow Sikhs to vote or hold any public office, civil service job, compete for public works contracts, enter law or pharmacy or buy any Crown timber. Perhaps it was under these conditions that Buckam Singh at age 20 decided to leave British Columbia in 1912/1913 and seek new opportunities and adventure in Ontario.

Buckam Singh is one of the earliest documented Sikhs known to have been living in Ontario. The first documented Sikh living in Ontario seems to be Dr. Sundar Singh who had been sent to Ontario and Ottawa by the British Columbia Sikh community to advocate and lobby on their behalf. Dr. Sundar Singh made a number of public speeches in Toronto between December 1911 and February 1917.

"We are subjects of the same Empire; we have fought, we have sacrificed. We have fought for the Empire, and we bear her medals; we have an interest in this country; we have bought about $2,006,000 of property in British Columbia; we have our church and pay our pastor, and we mean to stay in -this country. I understand that there is a society called the Home Reformation Society and that it says that it is better for a man to have a wife and family. To others you advance money to come here, and yet to us, British subjects, you refuse to let down the bars. All we are asking of you is justice and fair play, because the Sikhs have believed in fair play, and have believed all the time that they will get justice; that ultimately they will get justice from the British people: (Applause.) Many people have been telling me that it is useless my trying to bring this question before the Canadian people, but I am firmly persuaded that, if the question, is properly brought before right-minded Canadians, that they will say that the same rights should be given to the Sikh people as are given to any other British subjects. ...We have the promise of Queen Victoria that all British subjects, no matter what race or creed they belong to, shall be treated alike. These promises have been confirmed by King Edward, and by His Majesty King George the Fifth. When he was in India, he granted their full rights to the Hindoo people. The Indian people are loyal British subjects. They are as loyal as anybody else. Why should there be such a difference in the treatment of these loyal people?" (Excerpt from a speech delivered by Dr. Sundar Singh, before the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto on January 25, 1912)

After spending nearly two years in Toronto, Buckam Singh worked on the farm of W.H. Moore at Rosebank Ontario. He would spend six months here before deciding to join the military and begin the next chapter of his life.